YOUNG EMMA by W. H. Davies


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British poet W. H. Davies, best known for Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908), wrote this later memoir in 1924--but its publication was put off so as to spare the feelings of Mrs. Davies, the young lady of the title. She died, however, in 1979 (nearly 40 years after Davies himself), so here now is this odd, unappealing, but sociologically fascinating document: the story, circa 1920, of how seedy, 50-year-old Davies came to marry 23-year-old ""Emma."" He wanted a wife, you see, but hated society--so (after two turned-down proposals to ""respectable women"") he decided ""to find a wife in the common streets."" The first prospects, taken on as mistresses, didn't work out: soldier's wife Bella boozed and stole; gentle Louise was loving but didn't stay; a well-bred pickup turned out to be another alcoholic. But then ""shy"" Davies encountered innocent, childlike Emma in her velvet cap with tassels: she proved her loyalty, honesty, and sobriety. And she moved in, though Davies was a bit shaken to find she'd given him VD--an incapacitating case through which she nursed him lovingly. . . until she herself suffered a near-fatal miscarriage of her baby (conceived before she met unsuspecting Davies). This scandal necessitated a move to the country--but Emma and her ""Bunnykins"" remained devoted despite medically-prescribed abstinence, suspicions (it later became clear that Emma wasn't the disease source), and delayed nuptials. It's a bizarre story--made stiff and choppy by Davies' self-regarding digressions and oddly formal locutions-but it has an undeniable curiosity value; and the socio-sexual milieu (medical ignorance, gradations between prostitution and loose-living, strange sets of standards) adds a bit of scope to a narrow tale full of unexplored psychological questions.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1981
Publisher: Braziller